Immigrants throughout the United States have been victimized by “notarios” who present themselves as attorneys or attorney-like figures who take a much smaller fee than any attorney and who agree to file immigration paperwork on behalf of the unsuspecting immigrant. These individuals often create major immigration problems for the vulnerable victims who often don’t speak English and are unfamiliar with our immigration laws. The notarios will often commit immigration fraud or make material misrepresentations that can subject the immigrant victim to criminal prosecution and/or deportation. Many victims put their trust in people to do the right thing and to file the correct paperwork with the correct information. So they sign their names to the applications. Often, without reading what they are signing. The Board of Immigration Appeals recently came out with a decision which discusses this very issue. The BIA held that there will be a strong presumption that if you sign your name to an immigration application or petition, then you are aware of the contents of the application or petition.
What if I signed my name to an immigration application, but I didn’t read what was in the application?
In Matter of Valdez, 27 I&N Dec. 496 (BIA 2018), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decided the case of A.J. and Z. Valdez, a husband and wife who were citizens of Venezuela. The Valdez’s hired a person who was not an attorney to help them get greencards. The Valdez’s believed that the person was an attorney and pastor and could get them greencards through the church. They paid this person $15,000 to represent them and he drafted the applications, presented the applications to the Valdez’s for them to sign, and then filed the applications with USCIS. The applications were in English and the Valdez’s only spoke Spanish. The Valdez’s signed the applications, relying on the person they paid and who they thought was an attorney. USCIS granted the applications and the Valdez’s received their greencards. Upon reentry after a trip abroad, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) placed the Valdez’s in secondary inspection and ultimately they were placed in removal (deportation) proceedings. The Valdez’s were charged with being inadmissible under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i) for fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure (or has sought to procure or has procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the United States or other benefit provided under the Act.”
The issue before the immigration judge was whether the Valdez’s signatures on the adjustment applications was sufficient evidence to support their knowledge that information in the application was false or misleading. The BIA recognized that courts have historically held that a person’s signature on a form or contract establishes a strong presumption that the signer knows the contents of the document he or she is signing. The BIA stated that “[w]hen an alien challenges the accuracy of the contents of a signed application, the Immigration Judge must evaluate the alien’s explanations and consider the facts of the particular case to determine whether he or she has rebutted the presumption of knowledge of the document’s contents.”
In the Valdez’s case, the Immigration Judge found that the Valdez’s signed the applications and therefore, there was a strong presumption that they knew what information was in the application. The Immigration Judge discounted the Valdez’s testimony because of inconsistencies between Mr. and Mrs. Valdez’s testimony, they didn’t question how they could get a greencard through the church without working there, and inconsistent statements Mr. Valdez made with his own prior statements. The BIA affirmed the Immigration Judge’s decision. The BIA noted that the Valdez’s signed the documents without having them translated. The BIA stated that at the least, Mr. and Mrs. Valdez had “deliberate avoidance” of what information was in the application, which is not a defense to misrepresentation.
What does the Valdez case tell us?
The Valdez case tells us that it is extremely important to take everything filed with the government extremely seriously. You should never sign a document that you have not read and reviewed in detail. You should never allow a document to be sent to a government agency on your behalf without reading and understanding it. Even if you have an attorney, you should read the documents in full and have the attorney explain anything that you don’t understand. There are many people who make a lot of money taking advantage of immigrants. They file misleading or fraudulent applications. By the time the fraud or misleading statements are discovered, the person that filed the application is long gone and it is the immigrant that has to suffer the consequences. It is extremely important that you know what information you are attesting to when you sign and file an immigration application.
Jeremy Lasnetski is a partner at the Law Offices of Shorstein, Lasnetski, & Gihon. The firm focuses on criminal defense, immigration and personal injury. Mr. Lasnetski focuses his practice on immigration and criminal defense. Mr. Lasnetski is the former Jacksonville Regional Vice Chair of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, Central Florida Chapter and has represented clients in deportation proceedings, USCIS benefit cases, consular processing cases, and more. He routinely gives presentations on immigration law issues to both criminal and immigration lawyers at conferences and seminars throughout the State of Florida.